In Conversation with Mr. P. P. Devaraj

Mr. Periannan Pillai Devaraj is a veteran politician, activist and writer, especially on issues concerning the Indian Origin Tamils (IOTs) of Sri Lanka. He was a Member of Parliament from 1989 to 2001, and has held the post of State Minister for Hindu Religious Affairs. He was also the founder President of the Sri Lanka Chapter of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), and is currently on its management board.

He has written and published extensively on IOT-related issues. One of his early writings is the chapter titled ‘Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka: Identity Stabilization and Inter-Ethnic Interaction’ published in Social Scientists’ Association (ed), Ethnicity and Social Change in Sri Lanka (Colombo: SSA, 1985). He is also the editor of Rights & Power-Sharing Mechanisms for Non-Territorial Minority Communities in Sri Lanka (FES, 2004) and Rights and Power Sharing Issues in Sri Lanka with Special Focus on Indian Origin Tamil Community (FCT, 2006)

The conversation begins with a discussion on the history of Indian Origin Tamils (IOTs) in Sri Lanka, about how they have come to regard Sri Lanka as their home, and the devastating impact of the Citizenship-legislation in the late 1940s which disenfranchised them [clip 1]. Continuing this discussion, Mr. Devaraj talks about the agreements which sought to address the issue, and how some of them, such as the Sirimavo-Shastri Pact of 1964, amounted to bartering arrangements. Mr. Devaraj also touches on the factors that have made Sinhala leaders restrained in considering the IOTs as equal citizens. Importantly, he is asked about the responsibility of the British colonial power concerning the question of IOTs in Sri Lanka [clip 2].

In the final sections of the conversation [clips 3 & 4], Mr. Devaraj talks about the issue of human security, political autonomy for the IOTs – two topics which have been central themes in many of his publications – and the prospects for political reform that will improve the lives of the IOTs. He also calls for fresh thinking about Sri Lanka’s problems, especially the ethnic conflict, and a reappraisal of the dominant framework within which it gets analyzed.